In 1643, at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, Duke Ernst I (“The Pious”) of Sachsen-Gotha laid the foundation stone for an edifice whose name broadcast a message of hope in troubled times: Friedenstein.
The castle, which was said to have as many rooms as there are days in the year, was completed in just thirteen years. The formidable monument was initially surrounded by well-fortified ramparts. These fortifications were then razed at the end of the 18th century (only the casemates remain, some of which are open to visitors). A park was built which is the oldest English Garden on the continent, admired not only by garden lovers. The Orangerie Garden is the oldest and most picturesque section. From the castle, it appears to visitors as a lovely blossoming amphitheatre in the summer.
In addition to a research library whose holdings include the ducal stock of books, Friedenstein Castle is also home to the Thuringian Public Records Office, which has housed state records for centuries.
The castle church and the Baroque Ekhof Theatre have also survived. The theatre’s original stage machinery from the 17th century still functions today and is used during the summer Ekhof Festival.
A popular attraction is the ensemble of magnificent reception halls at Schloss Friedenstein, which reflect changing tastes in décor over the years, from the Baroque ballroom to the Neoclassical chambers from the period before 1820. The art collections in the Castle Museum, which developed out of the former ducal art cabinet, are beyond compare: Egyptian mummies, ancient vases, paintings by German Old Master Lucas Cranach, the famous “Gothaer Liebespaar” (Gotha Lovers), an extensive selection of Dutch paintings, the largest Houdon collection outside of France, a rich assortment of porcelain from Thuringia, Meissen and Asia, a vast collection of coins, 20th-century artworks – and these are just a few catchwords for a truly exciting, diverse array of art.
Finally, the Museum of Regional History and Folklore illustrates the history of Gotha and the surrounding region. It principally depicts the everyday activities of citizens, forming a meaningful complement to the splendour of the historical castle rooms.
The historical collection on view at the Nature Museum reveals the dukes’ keen interest in science. The significance of the complex at Schloss Friedenstein as a cultural heritage site of international standing lies in the unbroken continuity of the ensemble of castle, castle church, theatre, library, archive, natural science collections, art collections and park since the early Baroque period – a rarity seldom witnessed anywhere else.